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CULTURE

‘Love in midst of horror’: Austria hosts The Wedding of Auschwitz exhibition

The two newlyweds have dressed up for the picture, but they are not smiling. And for good reason: their union was sealed at Auschwitz -- the only wedding known to have taken place in the death camp.

'Love in midst of horror': Austria hosts The Wedding of Auschwitz exhibition
Wedding photo Rudolf Friemel and Margarita Ferrer Rey, 18. March 1944. (Rudolf Friemel Estate, Vienna Library in the City Hall)

The yellowed photo of Rudolf Friemel, an Austrian communist who resisted the Nazis, and his Spanish wife Margarita Ferrer Rey, is now on show in his home town Vienna.

It is the centrepiece of an exhibition, “The Wedding of Auschwitz”, which uses papers donated by their family to tell the couple’s heart-breaking story.

Friemel met Ferrer Rey in Spain after going there to fight with the International Brigades in 1936 against General Franco’s fascists during the Spanish Civil War.

He was sent to Auschwitz in 1942 after returning home.

In the camp he was set to work repairing SS vehicles, and was held in “better conditions than other prisoners”, according to Vienna’s Social Democratic mayor, Michael Ludwig, who wrote the introduction to the catalogue.

But why the Nazis granted the Friemels — their bitter enemies — “such an unique privilege to be able to marry remains a mystery to this day,” Ludwig added.

Escape attempt

“What I find most interesting is that we see that there was love in the midst of horror,” the couple’s grandson, Rodolphe Friemel, told AFP from his home in southern France.

He wondered if “maybe my grandparents did all this just to see each other again,” with Margarita allowed to travel to Auschwitz from Vienna for the wedding with their son — who was born in 1941 — and Friemel’s father.

The marriage was registered at 11 a.m. on March 18th, 1944, as the slaughter at the camp reached its peak.

Some one million Jews were murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau as well as homosexuals, prisoners of war and others persecuted by Germany’s Nazi regime.

Photos of the Gestapo Vienna detection service, September 1941. (Rudolf Friemel Estate, Vienna Library in the City Hall)

Friemel, 48, gave the wedding documents, including congratulations messages from other prisoners, to the Vienna City Library early this year to ensure their preservation.

His grandfather was allowed to wear civilian clothes and let his hair grow for the occasion, and a cell was made available to the couple for their wedding night in the camp brothel.

But the respite was shortlived. Rudolf Friemel was hanged in December 1944 for helping to organise an escape attempt. The camp was liberated a month later.

All his wife and child — who moved to France after the war — were left with were his heartbreaking letters and poems.

Margarita died in 1987.

The show runs at Vienna City Library until the end of the month.

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CULTURE

All churned up: Austrian oat milk ad draws farmers’ ire

Austrian farmers were left fuming after an advert for winter tourism featured oat -instead of cow's- milk, in what industry representatives sourly slammed as an "affront to Tyrolean farmers".

All churned up: Austrian oat milk ad draws farmers' ire

The commercial was to promote Austria’s western Tyrol region, renowned for its rolling pastures and rugged peaks that are a magnet for winter sports lovers.

In the ad, a hairy, horned mythical figure called “Percht” — known for driving out winters in Alpine folklore — is invited into a Tyrolean mountain hut for a warming drink after returning a young girl’s glove that he found in the snow.

But it is the next scene that had farmers in a froth — when the “Percht” creature orders a “latte macchiato with oat milk”.

READ ALSO: Austrian Christmas traditions: The festive dates you need to know

“It can’t be that a promotional video for Tyrol features ‘oat milk’ and not the very own, genuine Tyrolean milk,” Josef Hechenberger, president of the Tyrolean Chamber of Agriculture said in a statement.

The ad is an “affront to Tyrolean farmers”, he added. 

Another regional Chamber of Agriculture and the Tyrolean Farmers’ Union had also voiced complaints, arguing that dairy-related names such as “oat milk” were banned by the European Union in adverts because they do not contain dairy products.

The uproar led to the advert which runs just over one minute long being pulled.

Tourism marketing organisation Tirol Werbung that commissioned the promotional video said the aim was to portray local hospitality and open-mindedness.

But it acknowledged that the underlying message that every preference and lifestyle is welcome in Tyrol had been lost on some viewers.

The ad called “Come as you are — in Tyrol everybody is welcome” was originally designed to cater to “modern, urban” clientele, for whom “climate protection is important” and who might be lactose-intolerant, Tirol Werbung’s communications chief Patricio Hetfleisch told AFP Thursday.

READ ALSO: Austrian clichés: How true are these ten stereotypes?

The punchline was that “every lifestyle and each preference, ranging from gender to food” would be welcomed with hospitality in Tyrol, Hetfleisch said.

“Obviously the punchline could not be decoded by some,” he added.

The commercial only aired for around 10 days before being suspended earlier this week due to criticism, Hetfleisch said.

Hashtags and memes surrounding the row are still trending in Austria.

It was originally shot in 2019 and produced by a Berlin-based creative film production agency.

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